Monday, August 31, 2015

Today is one of the scariest days of the month for me (a single lady on her own). I pay my bills. Even though they are not all due on exactly the same day, I try to take care of them all at once because anxiety so besets me.

Some might wonder about this, but perhaps their income is greater than their outflow each month, unlike my situation. Writing checks for apartment rent, car insurance, utilities, credit card, and cell phone services, I'm watching my meager savings float out the window, with no returns. Restricting the process to a day or two permits me to forget about expenses for the rest of the month until - bill paying day arrives again! I start getting anxious two or three days before I sit down and face the costs of my existence.

Bills no longer look like they did when I first started taking care of my own expenses in the 1970s. They were pretty simple. We are charging you 12 dollars and fifteen cents for August electricity usage. It is due by September 7. Thank you for your recent payment of $13.01 received on August 2.

Half a page of paper and a return envelope. Not so scary because it was easy to understand (and because I had a job with income, and, eventually, a spouse and family).

Bills now are subdivided into many categories, some with labels that might as well be ancient Greek. Many are unclear about the dates of the service period. The due dates sometimes are shifted. The addresses where the payments are received and processed can be different than the location of the company whose services you are receiving. It's just more complicated.

We have options now that permit us to avoid this monthly confrontation. Automated payments permit companies to have access to your bank account. The amount owed is paid on the date due without any fuss, as long as you have funds in your account. However, I have a computer that is squirrelly and family with some bad experiences with this kind of system. I try to plod more slowly the old-fashioned way, with a stamp and envelope.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Solar Ovens and Lower Branches

As the human population expanded in parts of Africa, and more of the lands were taken over by humans, and severe droughts increased in duration and frequency of occurrence, traditional ways of cooking and building were hampered. Such ancient ways also swiftly put a strain on the natural environment during harsh climactic change.

Traditionally, large leaves were used in many ways to weave structures, to create roofs, and meet other needs. This sustainable housing had been greatly successful across thousands of years. Wood from lower branches and trees was used for carving bowls, utensils, and art and for fuel for food preparation.

But the spread of industrial activity included the clearing of lands, and also disrupted ways of life and survival for many species. The loss of trees, prairie lands, and open ranges dramatically changed the world for other species who depended on leaves and fruit for food, and on migration to obtain food and prevent overgrazing. Human activities also led to severe droughts, the evaporation of watering holes.

One means of human adaptation to these conditions has been the invention of a small oven that uses nothing but solar energy for fuel, and is easily constructed using materials often found second-hand at construction and demolition sites. These are called solar ovens, and have eased the use of wood as fuel. Similar materials are used to create housing. People have come to acknowledge the importance of tree canopies to sustain the existance of life on the continent. Decreasing the harvest of lower branches for food and construction means there is more shade and moisture preserved close to the ground, providing pockets of shelter from the sun for the young giraffe, the zebra, the dassies, the gazelle, for small and large birds. During the heat of day during the dry season, stretched across the limb of an old tree, the lion may still find rest.

Friday, August 28, 2015

St. Francis

St. Francis of Assisi is familiar to many as the patron saint of animals. The images and statues you find are of a robed man with a bird on his shoulder, and rabbits and deer near his feet, and a basket of grain or seeds nearby. We learned in school to sing a prayer he composed. I only remember the beginning of it, but perhaps that is enough.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

elocution contest

The school I went to as a little kid had a yearly elocution contest. The pupils in each class memorized a poem given to them by the teacher. They took turns reciting it, if they wished to participate. The two or three who did the best job got to recite a poem of their choice at a night-time performance in the auditorium with an audience of family and friends. Awards were distributed after the show.

This tradition must go back quite a ways. In Montgomery's book Anne of Green Gables, dating back to the 1800s, there is a chapter devoted to such a contest.

Our mother helped us memorize a poem or two. I got to participate once in the contest - second grade - and still remember all of 'Little Orphan Annie'. The high schoolers liked to recite dramatic works of romance and tragedy - not very different from what happens in Anne of Green Gables. Their performances sometimes brought tears to the audience.

Some people are natural performers - these contests may have been an entry into a career of entertaining or teaching others. The experience was scary for me, as perhaps performing was scary for other children. It did help me later in life when I still had stage fright giving research presentations to remember I had some experience, and had survived. What I appreciate the most about the elocution contest, though, was learning how to memorize; that people before television arrived had memorized poems to entertain each other; that words spoken or written centuries earlier can be carried through time and be brought to life again and again, person to person.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

there's what we see around us
the reality of the chair
and the clothes on the chair
and the crumpled blanket on the bed

and there's what we see around us
the unreality
that fills in the lines
turns wrinkles and shadows and curves
into funny faces
and hollowed out faces
and peaceful animals with no names
and odd protrusions
and odd extrusions

a real and unreal
layered visual world

you could say the first is real
the other merely figment
filled in by your solitary mind

or you could say
the blanks and curves are filled in
by the soup and vibrations
of everything going on
that doesn't fit in your room
with the chair
the rumpled clothes
and the crumpled blanket

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

3 pigeons and 2 squirrels

A large pigeon stood on a picnic table this morning.
The pigeon did not startle as I approached;
he stood so still that I stopped.
A fellow nearby pointed out the pigeon,
still motionless,
and a pair of squirrels up a tree.
I took out a folded paper packet with the remains of my breakfast,
a sticky sweet roll with walnuts and cinnamon,
and crumbled some of it on the ground near the table.
The pigeon was there first
and snagged a sugary walnut.
He ate it very fast and floated up, as though in delight.
He landed and two others joined him.
They flapped their wings against each other
then moved in a small circle
brushed up together
each one rotating
with wing and tail feathers outspread
fanning them
exposing white feathers on their necks
that contrasted with the dark grays.
They danced
and the squirrels frolicked above my head
along the trunk and among the branches.
I'd be happy to share my breakfast with them all again.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Leonardo's pyramids

Within the book The Science of Leonardo by Fritjof Capra, there is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci that is visually interesting:

"All the things transmit to the eye their image by means of a pyramid of lines. By 'pyramid of lines' I mean those lines which, starting from the surface of each item, converge from a distance and meet in a single point...placed in the eye."

Here's a bit of conjecture on my mind. From Leonardo's intricate and complex drawings, we see he must have learned to visualize more than the images one sees ordinarily. He was able to keep aware of the invisible but real, physical paths between the objects and the eye. The 'pyramid' he describes is not visible to a second and third observer on either side of him. The travel or trails of the light are not usually visible to the eye in a lighted area, and they are not the same for each observer; their separate perspectives would create different pyramids.

Though the lines are not visible to the eye, Leonardo perceives them with intention. (Naturally, or did he train himself to do this, expand his mind?) Many of his artistic works and scientific sketches have a complex depth viewers have admired for centuries. His visualizing the invisible pyramid created from light flowing there to here adds dimension to his art. It seems he played with the multi-dimensional objects shaped by those trails of light, creating unusually vibrant representations of what he saw.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I liked the years between when personal computers became available, and when the internet arrived to the public. You purchased a computer and you chose some software packages - an encyclopedia, maybe. Your favorite games. Accounting and geneaology and learn-to-speak-Italian. Word processing and art software. There was no connection to other computers. It was like having a private notebook that held a closet of books and pens and ink and writing paper and fun things to do, all in one cube on your desk.

With the arrival of internet, we started off with exchanging emails (this was before texting on cellphones showed up) and then, as websites mutiplied exponentially, we started surfing. Via the internet, we visited fun places we might never have known of, met people and their thoughts and the photos of where they lived and what they liked to do,  and had access to great sources of information. The internet has been a life-expanding experience, something big formerly unknown to mankind.

However, there has been a kind of rise and fall with the internet. The connections to other computers and databanks at other locations has led to intentional mischief that in some ways has undermined not only the internet, our security, and our computers, but the foundation of our culture.

Well, that's debatable and I'm meandering. What I wanted to write about was before computers. The assignments and papers we handed in when I was in high school were written by hand (or, rarely, typed on a typewriter). There was a certain format that was expected - where you placed your name, the date, and the class title, for example. By college, you were expected to have access to a typewriter, or a typist. We were familiar with white-out, correction tape, and erasable bond typing paper. There were all kinds of rules, many now lost, in the mechanics of typing. For example, the tradition at that time was to type a single space between words, and a double space to separate sentences. There were expectations about whether the text should be double- or single-spaced. A dash consisted of two hyphens, and we were expected to know the difference between the use of a dash and a hyphen. Finally, in typing manuscripts for publication (I don't know why I love writing about these things), you ended the text you submitted with three hash marks,
###, perfectly centered below the last sentence, marking the end.


Friday, August 21, 2015

they buy a clock

a story i read
goes on and on
about a family who lived
long ago
with a horse
and a cow
and candle lights
and a shaky bridge
across a creek.
one day
they ride to the village
they buy a clock
the first they have ever had.
they wind the clock
and through the night
the story flows on
through the day
and through the night
day and night
and night and day
now they know the time
nothing remains the same.

(the other animals
are still afloat
on sun and stars
on rain and wind
and the chip-chip stories
of the birds and mice.
the human animals go by the clock
time to rise!
it's six o'clock)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

goodnight, wild things

how many lullabies
will it take
before you're settled
for the night?
how many kisses? 1-2-3?
the flying bunny
floats back and forth
your eyes droop
as they try to follow
when bunny lands
you're in sweet slumber

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

white coat syndrome

There's something called 'the white coat syndrome'. Sometimes, it refers to blood pressure increases in people who have 'normal range' blood pressure readings most of the time. The thought of the doctor (who typically wears a white coat), or just being in a doctor's office, makes some people nervous, and their blood pressure rises with the anxiety.

In psychology, we come across other references to white coat syndrome related to obedience. There are numerous studies that show that people - usually research volunteers - will do whatever they are instructed to do, even if it makes them uncomfortable, or requires breaking their own personal ethics. Although we are volunteers, and are free to leave whenever we wish, there is something about the instructor or technician (sometimes in 'the white coat') being seen as an authority figure. We humans have a hard time saying no in such settings. A classic example is Philip Zimbardo's 1960's research that assigned students randomly to either a make-believe prisoner role or that of a prison guard. No participants chose to leave, even though the situation quickly became so cruel that the experiment was ended early. (The book by Dr. Zimbardo, 'The Lucifer Effect', thoroughly examines the study and relevant issues beyond the study.)
There is other research where the volunteer is expected to deliver shocks to someone in the next room, visible through a one-way window, (usually a planted coworker playing the role of a second volunteer). The volunteer is expected to deliver shock by pressing a button in response to errors the victim makes in a game (or other situation). Usually the person in the next room is a planted secret assistant. The supposed shock mechanisms adjusted to different levels, from low to a high 'danger' level. Almost all of the volunteers followed instructions, even if the person in the next room was making sounds of suffering and even though the volunteers sometimes were moved to tears as they continued to deliver shocks at 'high voltage', and could have walked out at any time without retribution. The ethics of such experiments is something that has been discussed. Given that they were conducted, however, they can be helpful in discussing and understanding issues such as torture and perhaps preventing such behavior.

The reason I started off with this topic though, goes back to the doctor's offices and hospitals. In my experience, and that shared to me by others, there are occasions when we comply with anything the staff in healthcare facilities recommend or order - for ourselves, our kids, our parents. It is of interest that many of us don't refuse when it is something we would like to refuse, even though we have reasons and the right to say no. A strategy that I have discovered to be helpful is practicing saying - 'Thank you for your recommendation. I will give it some thought.' This usually does not offend the worker, and gives one more time to make a more measured decision about whether the procedure is necessary and/or desired.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

whale dreams of elephants

While drawing without intention - relaxed without thought - there appeared in an abstract way several elephants and a whale on the same page of my notebook. The elephants appeared to be within the whale's mind. I was listening via today to a version of 'Matte Kudasai', originally created by the band King Crimson. Some of the sound effects of the instruments were like the calls of whales; some like those of elephants. So I'm thinking about whales and elephants together.

Elephants are very large mammals, and so are whales. Their habitats are very different, though, the elephants on land, the whales at sea. Whales and elephants both when in their natural habitats, migrate in clans. The whales swim in pods. The elephants hike in a line, trunk clasping tail. Both species communicate among themselves in many ways - the whales make complex sounds, language perhaps, that travel long distances through the water. Elephants are expressive aloud as well, but they have other means of connection. Long ago, I think it was in Smithsonian magazine, I read of elephants that travel on foot from different locations across long distances in Africa, and meet up on the same day at what was described as an elephant graveyard, as though for a planned reunion. In the night, the article stated, the elephants circle and dance beneath the moon. They part the next day.

Could elephants enter the dream of a whale?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jokes and riddles from The Animal Zone (by Gary Chmielewski, illustrated by Jim Caputo; 2008):

A farmer riding a horse saw a dog on the road.

"Good morning," said the dog.

"I didn't know dogs could talk," said the farmer out loud.

"Neither did I," said the horse.

What did one firefly say to the other firefly?

"Your son sure is bright for his age!"

Chris: "My cat Maddie is sick, so we're taking her to the animal doctor."

Alan: "Gee, I thought all doctors were people."

Why was the baby raised on monkey milk?

Because it was a baby monkey!

Why did the elephant quit the circus?

He didn't want to work for peanuts anymore!

Park Ranger: "Young man, there's no fishing here!"

Young Man: "You're telling me. I haven't caught anything in two hours."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I've been thinking about osmosis as a way to rehydrate. In other words, besides drinking fluids, fluids enter the body via contact with the body's surface - without entering the digestive system. I don't know how much it happens with humans or how significant it is, but many plants seem to respond to contact with water (through the surface of leaves and bark) in addition to uptake through the roots, as do insects and birds. I have no references for this - it's just observation and pondering in the heat of August in Texas. Rain is good.

I heard a factoid about a year ago that you can warm up by keeping even a small part of the body warm. For example, a pair of gloves or a scarf affects the overall temperature of the body. I've found this to be true in lowering one's temperature as well, that a cold wash cloth applied to the back of the neck, or running the wrists under cool water can cool down one's overall temperature. Washing dishes by hand in hot (not too hot!) water can have warming and relaxing effects. In the past, poultices (fabric cloths, or sacks) of herbs were warmed and applied to ease pain. Chilled poultices were used to reduce fevers and swelling. Some viruses and bacteria (and the cells of certain tumors) that thrive at normal human temperatures are diminished by temperature change. Regular swims in chilly water or soaking in hot baths can have positive effects on maintaining one's overall health.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Gospel music
is crackling
in the parking lot heat
call and response

from a recording
of a long past jubilee

cicadas start to tremble
from the shade of the tree-lined creek
over and under
the recorded voices
they call out and repeat

the ladies' voices
arc and fall
'thank God, thank God'
they sing
the cicadas buzz and hum
at one with the gospel hymn

Thursday, August 13, 2015

afternoon at the laundromat

the washers are chugging
low pitched rumbling

an everyday murmuring
of water and machinery.
smell the warm cotton and suds
the air conditioners keep things cool
the dryers keep things hot
white and steel washing machines
shiver and shake
and socks hop

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


i remember you
giraffe in the zoo
so tall and so very calm
beneath the leafy trees
your kid at your side
we basked in your
bountiful serenity

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Yesterday, I briefly visited a little shop of Tibetan books and items. Mostly, I noticed the bowl-shaped bells, the 'singing bowls'. There were many other things that looked interesting that I do not know. As I left, I asked about one of them. It was an ornate box with a spindle inside, a spindle holding a decorated cylinder. I asked the clerk about it, and she told me it's for prayer. I asked more about it - do Tibetans pray as they spin the wheel? She said, the spinning itself is a form of prayer. I spun the wheel.

Without knowing a lot about them, I have seen Tibetan prayer flags. Squares of cloth or paper, each one a different color, hang from a string, like flags on a clothesline. They flutter in the breeze. The spindle reminded me of the flags, that this is a culture that acknowledges wordless, physical manifestations of prayer.

As I left, I glanced at a book on Tibet, and read some of the forward, by the Dalai Lama. He wrote that the main gift that Tibet offers the world is its study of compassion and wisdom.

Monday, August 10, 2015

thirsty bug

Over the hot, dry weekend, I found a hornet-like black bug, less than an inch long, on its back on my window sill. He twitched now and again, but otherwise did not move. I thought he was dying, and did not disturb it. The next day, he was still there. I poured a few drops - maybe half a teaspoon - of water near it, thinking it must be thirsty. Nothing happened. I tried again, this time making sure the water touched the hornet. The bug lept up, and seemed to be embracing the water. He was so light, it looked as though he were climbing it. He worked his front limbs up and down in the water, as though he were piercing a peach. He dipped his head under. He rolled his head back and forth in the water, as though letting it cool his neck. As this happened, the body of the bug beneath the wings seemed to be visibly expanding. 

I watched for a number of minutes. When I left, he was dropping his open lower jaw, once every ten seconds or so. It was like watching an adjustable wrench, the moveable part lowering then rising, lowering then rising. I assumed this was to drink water, but looking closer, the lowered jaw at that point was not touching the liquid. The water he was in was not thin, but like a rather heavy blob on the sill - the other drops as well, reflecting the window screen above in a colorful, three-dimensional way. I left my apartment for a few hours. He was no longer there when I returned.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Before written music, how did bellmakers determine the tones to use in constructing the bells for the ancient cathedrals of Europe? How do those tones match up with western music at this time?

Do eastern bells, say from Sri Lanka, or Japan, or Korea, or China, match up with notes in western music? Or are they on-key for their own system but off-key for westerners?

Is there some geometric system or rule that demonstrates those distances between sounds that create harmony? Are there ways to visually demonstrate the relationships? I'm sure there must be already - given the wonderful software developed by musicians and techies. I really enjoy 'seeing' music. I'd like to be able to sketch sound, to see music in different ways, learn more about the spatial relationships, but am not learned in these areas.

I've been in church services where the ringing of altar bells seems to break up a kind of stagnant space, and carry in fresh air, so to speak. I've heard some eastern bells that when rung at the same time are almost too powerful to bear, their unusual harmonies are so beautiful.

Friday, August 7, 2015

i don't know where it is exactly
and I don't know if this is exactly how it goes
but i remember a story from the Bible -
a story buried somewhere in the Old Testament -
(and buried in my brain
since I first heard it)
where a man places a dry cloth
on a bed of grass.
the next morning,
the grass is covered with dew
but the cloth is still dry.

he places the cloth on the grass again.
the next morning
the cloth is wet,
but there is no dew -
the grass is dry.

i think about dew
and how in the extreme heat of summer
the smaller residents of the planet
survive in the bleached grasses
on the blessed droplets of condensation.
i think how
the beauty of August
is the promise of September,
and i wonder about the man
who lived thousands of years ago
and his demonstration
of the fabric and the dew.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Taj Mahal

After posting yesterday's quotes regarding Mount Rainier, I was struck to discover a quote expressing a similar wonder, this time regarding a manmade structure. The following quote is about the Taj Mahal:

'At dawn he watched it appear like a dream in the mist. In the midday heat, it glimmered like a jewel. In the dying light of the sun, it glowed as if on fire. Under the light of a full moon, it glittered like a pearl.'

from Taj Mahal
by Caroline Arnold
and Madeleine Comora
illustrated by Rahul Bushan

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On Mount Rainier:

'Out of the forest at last there stood the mountain, wholly unveiled, awful in bulk and majesty, filling all the view like a separate newborn world ...' John Muir Steep Trails, pg. 294

'The highest and most imposing mountain in our country, outside of Alaska, is Mount Rainier - Tahoma the Indians called it - "the mountain that was God." It is the representative of the Cascades, and the crown of the Puget Sea. One's first view of Rainier, or Tacoma, can never be forgotten.... It is the chosen Apollo among these giant cones that show themselves to men, - rising in one majestic sweep from the surge of the Puget sea to the stars of heaven....'  John Wesley Carter , From the Heights, 1911.

I found these quotes at this web page :

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Although it had been around for some time, it was around 1983 I first heard about hip-hop, an African-American invention of song that is all beat and spoken poetry, rhythm and lyrics without melody. Its origins may be from the tradition of rapping that reaches centuries back in the continent of Africa as a form of chant with drum-beat.

Hip-hop or rap, became wildly popular for awhile in some age and social groups. Cars were driven with windows open and the chant and the beat pouring out and aloft. Some used rough language, passionately expressing impoverished conditions. As rap became more popular, and financially successful, some of the replicators of the sound threw in rough language trying to imitate the form, without personal knowledge of the conditions from which the language had emerged. Though that was frowned upon by some as vulgarity, both the original and the subsequent productions of rhythmic beat poetry still touched a lot of folks and has quite a following.

Monday, August 3, 2015

We're familiar with works of art like statues and paintings; sketches, macrame, mobiles, and music; poetry and pottery. Sometimes I find something outside of the usual categories of arts and crafts, something that is visually and physically appealing, but that was not created with artistic intention. The object that just came to mind (as I sat staring at the blank screen looking for ideas) was an old wrench. I bought it a few years ago at a pawn shop, some seven or eight inches of red painted steel, an automotive maintenance tool. Its weight was satisfying, and the wrench head on each end was precisely shaped, but smoothed and scarred from use. Despite that I had little practical use for it, I enjoyed its simple, pleasing shape, the balance of its weight, the soul that seemed imbedded within it.

Once during a walk, I found a small rounded rectangle of yellowed solid wood in the street. Yards of old fishline string was neatly wound around it. The wood was knicked and bruised and polished to a great smoothness making it very comfortable and satisfying to hold. I don't know if the object was designed for fishing or for kite-flying, but it was clear it had been treasured and used over and over again by someone across many years, again, imbedded with soul. I liked holding it. I liked the wrench and the wood sitting on my shelf, arousing cheer, harmony, and interest in those who saw and handled them. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

the brown bug perched 
on my white door
sits in stone-still meditation.
my breath slows.